THE legalization of political parties in Jordan marks a milestone
in the Arab world's moves away from authoritarianism toward more
Analysts here say the June 9 ratification of a "national
charter," which allows for a pluralistic system, is also a coup for
King Hussein, who has managed to secure the allegiance of political
rivals and undermine other Arab nations' chances of intervening in
"The approval of the charter by the major political trends
practically implies that they no longer oppose the regime, but
accept (being) an opposition within the system," one analyst says.
But most significant, says historian and analyst Kamel Abu Jaber,
the national charter "has given birth to a new sort of legitimacy
that depends on the democratization process."
Under the terms of the charter - mithak, in Arabic - political
parties will be legalized in return for opposition recognition of
the Constitution, which stipulates that Jordan is a Hashemite
monarchy. (The Hashemites attained power 70 years ago with British
backing in what was then the mandate of Transjordan.)
Though the Jordanian opposition has not constituted a serious
threat apart from two short spells in the 1950s and 1970s,
acceptance of Hashemite rule is dear to the government. Most
opposition groups have long implied rejection of Hashemite rule and
advocated the establishment of "a nationalist democratic regime."
Pan-Arab and leftist groups, which reached their peak in the
mid-1950s, saw Hashemite rule as "a British creation." But over the
decades, Hussein has prevailed through a combination of suppression
of political activities, delicately balanced foreign and Arab
policies, and, finally, sweeping democratization measures.
In 1989, Hussein launched the democratization process - holding
parliamentary elections and relaxing restrictions on political
freedoms - but only after protests had swept the south, the bedrock
of Hashemite support.
Until then, solid backing from the traditionalists, influential
tribes, and the conservative Muslim Brotherhood (the only political
organization that was tolerated by the regime as a counterweight to
radicals) kept Hussein's rivals at bay. The 1989 protests were
sparked by price increases. Decisionmakers apparently saw the unrest
as a warning that the country's stability might be endangered
without broader popular representation.
Since then, Hussein, viewed by some Arabs as too dependent on
Western support, has increasingly relied on wider national
consensus. His policies during the Gulf crisis, when he refused to
join the United States-led coalition against Iraq, greatly increased
his popularity at home and consolidated his image as a national